Parliament Speaker Anna Makinda worked over time this week to stop two motions to form committees into urgent matters of state surfacing lately, one being the disturbances in Mtwara where she had herself come up with an idea to pursue the matter in detail and see what Parliament can do to redress the situation. The second was a private member’s motion on the disturbing situation in the country’s education sector, especially in government schools, where the rate of failure is phenomenal, and curriculum development seems geared to bring about failures or education unhelpful for adapting to needs in any sector in life. One aspect of that reality is how pupils routinely finish Standard VII and remain incapable of reading or writing; to add insult to injury, many of them pass and better pupils are listed as failures.
One reason why this situation exists was pointed by nominated MP James Mbatia, who is also chairman of the NCCR-Mageuzi opposition party, namely, that nearly everything that is done in the sector is merely intended to line up pockets of various officials, especially in curriculum development and approval or distribution of books for use in class. It can be added that pupils passing while those who know more than themselves fail bespeaks of a similar situation, where mechanisms exist for parents to lobby for placing in secondary school of their pupils, so long as one knows this or that official. Some have said that exams where multiple choice questions are given constitute a problem, as one merely guesses an answer, without actually having to express anything tangible to demonstrate actual knowledge.
From a psychological point of view, a multiple choice exam is also a test of intelligence in the sense that selecting between options A, B, C and D requires that one can quickly tell the different implications contained in each answer, usually by identifying what type of object is intended or is being tested, and what option is closest in image to that object. Yet the pupil can only get the answer right if the pupil has a sufficient culture (knowledge, intellectual exposure) to tell the difference between the various options, and thus under no circumstances can an illiterate pupil get right a series of such questions, as it would amount to a clever game of pool. The problem could be elsewhere, that a teacher liaising with a pupil’s parent replaces the right exam paper with his or her own, and without handwriting, it is easier.
In a situation where Tanzania is increasingly exposed to the East African Common Market for virtually all levels of job opportunities or placement except for the civil service, correcting errors and systematic mismanagement of education is vital, to give better chances to the youths finishing school in their own ability to confront life and in competing with equally eligible aspirants in jobs, training, etc. When the government says this is a policy issue, this masks the fact that there is no policy framework of action that has prevented the sector from sinking in the rot it is in right now, and therefore the policy makers in the government who have not been able to see that their policies lead into this state of affairs cannot be trusted to sort it out now. What is needed is a competent, empowered committee to tell us ‘how.’
The point about the need for a committee and why the government’s answer is wrong, and Speaker Makinda is equally wrong to accept the government’s excuses is that until MP Mbatia came up with the motion, nothing in what the government is doing signaled that there is a crisis to be resolved. Year in year out we have heard how many schools are being built, or to add spice to the statistics, how many schools are being shut down for lack of toilets, but nowhere is it evident that the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training has set up a team, or is implementing any ministerial program of action, to stem massive failures in primary and secondary schools. The idea that this is a policy issue and thus MPs aren’t competent to handle it is faulty in form and content; it needs to be rejected with contempt.